Sunday, July 31, 2016

Gaining Perspective in the Rain

Blog post written by Aidan Ramsey (age 13)
McKinney, Texas

"Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me." - Matthew 25:34-36

Tonight we fed the homeless on the streets of El Salvador from the back of Kurt Ackermann's truck. On our way out to the streets it started to pour, but that didn't stop us.  As we approached the area where the homeless people sleep, the rain started to fall harder and harder.  At first we were screaming and complaining.  But as we realized that the homeless were sleeping in the rain, the complaining was silenced.   Every time we fed someone the team members understood the purpose of this trip more and more.  Feeding the community allowed us to show love to God's people and it felt really good to share to His love.  Once we got out of the truck at the mission house I realized that the misery of sitting in the rain was absolutely worth it because we got to feed His people.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Crean is on the Ground!

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey
McKinney, TX

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers in to his harvest field.” - Matthew 9:35-38

Our team of seventeen volunteers is finally together!  We have thirteen team members from Orange County, CA (most of whom are from Crean Lutheran High School), a couple from San Francisco and me and Aidan (from Texas).  This week our team will be completing and dedicating the Hernandez family home, feeding the homeless and visiting orphanages.  We're so grateful of your prayers and support as we serve His children this week!

The Stuff of Dreams

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey
McKinney, Texas

"He gives a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair." - Isaiah 61:3

This blog post has been growing in my heart for the past three days.  It is incredibly difficult to find the words to describe the immense emotions, abundant joy and miraculous transformations that we observed on the night of the quinceanera!  

It has been a tremendous privilege for me to lead fourteen teams to El Salvador over the past eight years.  This country has nestled its way into my heart.  I have fallen in love with its people and El Salvador has become like home to me.  In 2012 our team from the Village Church of Irvine was serving in a government run orphanage.  My dear friend and ministry partner, Stephanie Keenan was spending time with the teenage girls.  They were broken.  Their dorm area feels more like a prison than a home.  Stephanie was overwhelmed as many of the girls shared their grief over the fact that they had never celebrated their quinceaneras.  A quinceanera is a rite of passage for a Latin American girl and it's what every little girl dreams of.  A vision of a quinceanera party was planted in Stephanie's heart that day but neither of us realized the unbelievable ways in which God would provide, expand the vision and allow us to impact this nation.  Our partnership with the wonderful ladies of Young Women of Vision has enabled us to create quinceanera celebrations beyond our wildest dreams and most definitely the dreams of the Salvadorian girls.  

This week we were honored to host our fifth quinceanera to support our Salvadorian ministry partners, Sus Hijos, a Christian foundation that serves children living in government run centers.  Suffice it to say that each year the quinceanera celebration gets better and better.  This is the stuff of dreams.  Truly.  Most of these girls have never entered a hotel, dined in a restaurant or even celebrated their birthdays.  Ever.  To understand the impact of the party one must understand the background of the girls. They come from brokenness.  They are vulnerable.  Their stories are often too tragic to share. 

Our hearts were torn apart as we learned some of the girl's stories this week.  They have suffered and they often feel forgotten.  They don't feel beautiful at all.  And they have accepted that they will never have a quinceanera party. Our goal was to change that this week.  We came to remind them that they have not been forgotten by us or their Heavenly Father, who sent us here to celebrate their lives.  He loves them deeply and He knows their names.  As we met the girls and spent time with them through the dress fittings, we smothered them with love.  We overwhelmed them with the truth of the Gospel.  He gave His life to set them free.  He loves them with a never ending love.  And He wants to celebrate their quinceaneras!  

There were so many moments from this amazing week that I will always treasure in my heart.  Many stories are too intimate to post and our priority is always to protect the girls.  One girl who moved me to tears truly transformed before our eyes.  When we first met her, she dressed like a boy.  Her head was shaved.  She was uncertain about even wearing a dress.  But on the night of the quinceanera she transformed into a magnificent princess.  She was pampered.  She was loved. Her dress flowed in the sparkle of the spotlight lights on the dance floor.  And she had a beautiful bow in her hair.  When we visited her orphanage yesterday, she was still wearing her hair bow. Aidan was privileged to escort her into the gala and I will never forget that moment. Her story is just one of more than one-hundred transformations.  Her life has been impacted forever because a group of North Americans said yes to the call.  And Sus Hijos said yes many years ago. They serve tirelessly day after day and they are changing lives.  

We had originally planned to host the gala at a restaurant in the city.  However, due to unforeseen challenges, we had to move the event to The Crown Plaza Hotel.  Clearly God was in every detail of the party planning.  The hotel far exceeded our expectations.  The staff went above and beyond to create an unforgettable evening for the girls.  Many vendors gave us discounts as the flowers were ordered, the cake was purchased and people realized the purpose of the party.  We hope to return to the Crown Plaza next year and look forward to making many more girl's dreams come true in the years to come!  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Quinceanera Reflections from a Salvadorian

Blog post written by Fryda Bogle
San Salvador, El Salvador


A quinceañera party is an event that ever girl in El Salvador looks forward to! All the girls from the different orphanages where we serve dream of being part of this party! This is the fourth year that Sus Hijos has celebrated the girls from the centers with the support of His Hands His Feet. This week I had the privilege of meeting the wonderful team of missionaries from His Hands His Feet and the beautiful ladies from Young Women of VIsion who came to my country to celebrate the lives of these girls.

The day of the party was beyond my expectations! And not only because the hotel was so amazing, or because the girls had a wonderful party, but because I was so moved to see the faces of these young girls at the moment of their celebration. They looked so happy with their dresses, they enjoyed being pampered by the team, translators, and staff from Sus Hijos. And they deserved it. I really loved seeing all the girls wearing beautiful party dresses, make up, and with their hair done like princesses! Seeing how happy these girls were at the party impacted me more than even the most spectacular flowers, cake, music or anything else that made the party so unforgettable.

When the girls were dancing I heard laughter throughout the room, to me this was a moment full of joy!! During the batucada drum performance all of the girls were dancing on the dance floor, and enjoying the moment. It was really amazing to see them so free and uninhibited! The food was delicious, and the cake was amazing. We took so much care for every detail of this party because we really wanted the girls to love their party, to always remember how wonderful their quinceanera was. Everyone who made this possible: His Hands His Feet staff, Young Women of VIsion mothers and daughters, Sus Hijos staff, and all the missionaries and translators WERE INCREDIBLE AND DID EVERYTHING THEY COULD to make this celebration incredibly special for the girls. And we could tell the girls loved it. We will never forget that day, filled with so much fun and lots of happiness!

Every Monday I have the privilege of visiting one of the orphanages to do a Bible study with the kids. When I saw the girls from this home at the party, I realized that no matter what a person has gone through in life, even if they have suffered, LOVE is capable of bringing happiness, hope, and value to anyone. Love was shown this night because the girls were treated like the princesses. Giving the girls an awesome party, surrounded by people who love and care for them showed the world that EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE FOR GOD, and He can do more than we dream or imagine. I thank God for putting the desire in every person who collaborated to make this party happen and for making the girl's dreams come true.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Restaurant with a Purpose

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey
McKinney, Texas

Yesterday our team was thrilled to eat lunch at the States Diner, a restaurant started by Sus Hijos to provide employment for young people aging out of orphanages.  The States Diner is an American style restaurant which boasts serving "real gringo food."  Our team enjoyed a delicious lunch with selections such as hamburgers, steak, grilled cheese, chili and some even tried the fried pickles!  A group of team members was served by one of the girls who lives in the transition house.  She had chosen her dream dress for the quinceanera the night before and was beaming from ear to ear as she talked about her dress.

It is so heart warming to see the staff at the diner learning desperately needed job skills and thriving in their work environment.  They are truly gaining work experience that will change their lives for the future.  Our team of gringos enjoyed listening to the American music on the jukebox and having sweet fellowship together.  Aidan ordered the fried Snickers bar and shared it with the team.  Delicious!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Making Dreams Come True

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey
McKinney, Texas

The past three days have been unforgettable as our team has had the privilege of visiting six orphanages, delivering invitations for the quinceanera gala to more than one-hundred girls.  A quinceanera celebration for a Latin American girl is a rite of passage that most girls dream of from their earliest memories.  However, most of the girls living in government orphanages come from extremely difficult situations.  Many have never had a birthday party, chosen a dress or felt like a princess.  They are hungry for unconditional love and searching for hope for their futures.  It is nearly impossible to describe how incredible it feels to be able to make their dreams come true.

The Young Women of Vision team has been amazing, collecting dresses, shoes, jewelry, nail polish, hair products and gifts for the girls for the past five months.  They arrived in El Salvador with hearts full of compassion, ready to serve and bless these girls.  The team has entered each orphanage overjoyed to bring the exciting news of the quinceanera and God's abundant love for each and every girl.  We've developed an efficient set up team, laying out shoes and dresses by sizes, setting up nail painting/foot washing stations and praying that every girl would find the perfect dress.  As the girls have entered the rooms at each center, they've been welcomed with our hugs and kisses.  We've had the opportunity to share why we've come and to pray over each girl before the dress selection process begins.  There have been many tears, squeals of joy and stories too numerous for this blog. 

Last night the girls from the Sus Hijos transition home were able to pick their dresses.  I'll never forget the smiles on their faces as each girl found the dress of their dreams.  They were glowing as the team members shouted and cheered over their outfits and celebrated their inner and outer beauty.

It has been such a joy to share the hope of the Gospel with these lovely girls and to remind them that these gifts have come from their Heavenly Father.  We have been given the privilege of being HIS HANDS and HIS FEET as we've brought the gowns, shoes and gifts to remind them that they are not forgotten.  There is truly nowhere else that I'd rather be this week than being part of this wondrous occasion.

Many of the dresses required alterations, so our team members organized a sewing party tonight. The mission house has been filled with laughter, excitement and anticipation as everyone is preparing for the big day.  Please pray with us as the final details come together.  Pray that each girl truly comprehends how deeply she is loved by God.  Pray for lives to be transformed as the girls receive makeovers, put on their gowns and enter the ballroom to dance, rejoice and be reminded that they are truly princesses, loved by the King of Kings.   

The Power of Touch

Blog post written by Ali Morin
Newport Beach, CA

As the servants of the Lord, we are blessed with a gift so simplistic yet immensely meaningful, the power of touch. This ability that we possess can make us feel connected and jointed with one another in a spiritual regard that no word or facial expression can quite compare to. When I ponder my early childhood, I reminisce on happy times of snuggling in my mum’s arms while she stroked my hair with her fingers or lathered my hands and feet in a cool and creamy baby lotion. I can still remember that exact feeling and smell if I think hard enough. There is something about being loved and cradled that has a celestial and divine sense relating to that of the Lord.

When I reflect on today in El Salvador the words that come to mind are attachment, endearment, and affection. The love in the eyes of the girls we visited was apparent from the moment we walked in the door. Their eyes glowed with happiness and tenderness when they not only heard of the dresses, makeup, and party festivities but also the word of God and how he works in ways far greater than we can understand. However, it was not just within the expressions of the girls that I felt the power of the Lord, but it was much more heavily present within physically embracing them and giving them a pedicure. While washing and moisturizing the feet of these beautiful young girls, it seemed quite basic. But after a while I began to wonder when was the last time that someone had truly shown them a genuine sense of affection or truly loved on them? It stirred powerful feelings within me to know that possibly I had bestowed them with something similar to what my mum gave me at a very young and still continues gives to me, a sense of comfort and warmth. I think that the power of touch is so wildly underestimated because it is taken for granted in a society that is filled with so much. Today opened my eyes to the fact that something so simplistic can be oh so beautiful.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Worshipping at Monte Calvario

Blog post written by Leanne Sheward
Newport Beach, CA

I love to go to church when I'm on vacation or out of town because I love to be in God's house with His people. I enjoy worshiping our God together and appreciate the ways in which churches worship differently.  I was so excited to learn that our first day's activity in El Salvador was to go to church! Igleslia Cristiana Monte Calvario was a small, very family oriented church and they all seemed to really know and love one another.  I loved how an older lady moved her purse and Bible on the chair next to her as if to say,  "Sit here by me!"  We sang out loudly together and some team members were handed tambourines during worship.  I was overjoyed when the worship team played a song in Spanish that I knew in English.   While our words may have been different, our hearts were united in Christ.

Our team was presented before the church and some of the team members sang two songs in English.  Our team leader Jenni gave a message on missions.  She invited people forward to demonstrate how many Christians are alive in the world today and broke down the world religions. The congregation enjoyed the message and it was a powerful presentation.  At the end of the message the church leaders came forward to pray over our team.  We were moved to tears as they prayed with passion for our week of ministry.

I so enjoyed seeing the young children run outside to their Sunday school classes when they were dismissed.  Some of our moms and daughters had prepared a lesson and crafts for them. It warmed my heart to hear how Christians from a whole different culture in essence speak the same language of God's love and forgiveness. Truth is truth, no matter what language.  I want to make sure that I am more like the lady I sat next to in church on Sunday and that I move my purse for many others to say,  "Sit here by me!"  I also hope to extend the same hospitality and to be as welcoming to others as the El Salvadorians were to our team of gringos.

The Power of Short-Term Missions

Blog post written by Rebecca Munoz
Newport Beach, CA

I've always felt a call to missions, but I have not had ample opportunities to explore this passion that the Lord has planted in my heart.  However, a certain chain of events led me to El Salvador with my mother this week.  I have served on two short-term mission trips in the past but did not feel that the work I was doing was truly helping.  Today, I met a young girl who completely changed my perspective on this.

As we arrived at the girl's home, I was reminded of a show that I had seen shortly before the trip.  In the episode, there was a character who had committed a crime. One man treated this person horribly, yet there was a woman who had compassion on him despite the sins in his past. I was thinking about how I could show compassion and love to people from different walks of life than me when the first girl entered the room.  We had just covered the tables with an abundance of dresses, one could imagine all the colors of the rainbow and then some.  Shoes lined the back of the room and about twelve team members lined the walls, waiting for the girls to arrive.  As "Ana" walked in she seemed to display a mix of amazement and horror: all eyes were on her, all this was for her.  The other girls were in class, so the entire room was truly hers. 

We sat Ana down, as she was obviously feeling a lot in that moment, and began to explain what we were doing and, more importantly, why.  Our team leader Jenni told Ana that God loved her and picked her just for this occasion.  Then she asked me to pray.  I put my arm around Ana and began praying over her while someone translated.  Usually, I feel uncomfortable praying in front of people, but in that moment, I felt God speaking through me.  He poured his love on Ana in a way I had never experienced before.  I said things that, growing up in a Christian home, seemed to me like things everyone hears. She obviously did not hear them often.  After praying that she would know how loved and precious she is, I looked over and saw a tear streaming down her cheek and a half smile creeping across her lips.  Never had I seen a simple prayer effect someone so deeply.

As she dug through the rainbow of dresses, she explained (through a translator) that her seventeenth birthday is at the end of this week and that she never had a proper quinceañera.  There was an overwhelming joy that came along with this perfect timing that could only be because of God.  After we found her dress and shoes, we simply couldn't let go of each other.  It was as if God had stretched a corner of each of our hearts out and welded them together.  We didn't want to say goodbye and told each other how we couldn't wait to dance together at the party.  Despite the language barrier, we loved each other in a way that I had never before experienced.  

I told my mom that even if I became sick and couldn't do anything for the rest of the trip, interacting with Ana for the short amount of time was worth it.  Through her I understood the importance of what we as Christians are called to do.  I was able to comprehend at least a fraction of the love God has for us.  I saw that, despite our differences, we are both daughters of the King and I would do anything to make sure she knows this.  Every little thing that the Father calls us to do for others has a purpose and is part of his greater plan.  Today I realized the power of short-term missions and the impact that one life can have on another.  I can't wait to dance with Ana at the quinceanera!